It is unfortunate that John LaPorta’s accomplishments as jazz educator, including three decades at the Berklee College of Music, may have overshadowed his expertise as a player, especially stints with Woody Herman’s big band, and the combos of Lennie Tristano and Charles Mingus. Life Cycle
, his ninth recording as a leader (or co-leader), is an assured statement by a musician with something significant to say beyond the confines of the classroom.
LaPorta composed all of the 11 cuts on the recording and, for his sidemen, chose some of the cream of the Berklee faculty, guitarist Rick Peckham, bassist Jim Stinnett, and drummer Joe Hunt. Although the disc includes a number of arresting solos, his primary concern is the interaction between all of the members of the group. The rapport between the leader’s tenor saxophone and clarinet and Peckham is notable as they frequently play written contrapuntal passages and improvise around each other’s phrases with ease. From straight-ahead swing to sections without a fixed pulse, both Stinnett and Hunt meet the varied demands of the compositions and contribute significantly to the overall sound. Hunt, in particular, is important because his light yet decisive touch and less-is-more approach to rhythms meshes well with the airy, somewhat cerebral manner of LaPorta’s music.
In playing a written melody or taking a solo, LaPorta never reaches for extremes to make his point. On “J.V. Blues (dedicated to Joe Viola),” for example, his woody sound on clarinet injects a blues feeling in a subtle, understated way. A brief solo turn on tenor during the samba “Lo Bastante” creates suspense by beginning with sustained tones and continues with brief flurries of notes held together by his rich tone. With Stinnett and Hunt on top of every nuance, “Conversion,” the warmest of LaPorta’s lines with Peckham, features solos by both that emphasize an easy swing and the slow but steady building of momentum.
Personnel: John LaPorta--clarinet and tenor saxophone; Rick Peckham--electric guitar; Jim Stinnett--acoustic bass; Joe Hunt--drums.